Evidence-Based Philanthropy

The Jumpstart Our Youth program asks students to identify a need or challenge in their local communities and then both fund a solution with the JOY grants and devise a volunteer or service learning project to get personally involved in the solution. Beyond those basics, students may take the program where they feel it needs to go: they raise additional money to enhance the grants, they can divide their grant funds among two or more organizations, and they can find ways to involve the rest of the school among other options.

But, how do students identify the community needs in the first place?

This year at Morse High School in Bath, JMG Specialist Maria Morris asked her students to assemble and complete a critical needs survey – specifically identifying community problems rather than more vaguely trying to articulate the problems they were trying to solve through JOY. The assessment was based on student perception and experience, not formal research or data gathering, but it led the students to thoughtfully examine experiences that they, their families and friends had had close to home.

Needs identified at Morse include: crime, domestic violence, hunger, substance abuse, homelessness, teen suicide and racism. With the problems specifically spelled out, the students could more accurately research the community nonprofits working on those issues for potential involvement with JOY.

Through a vote, Morse students awarded their grant, plus additional funds raised, to the local Bath mobile food truck where $1 in donations can purchase $7 worth of food.  The students donated enough to purchase two trucks full of food to meet local needs. Morse has supported the Bath food truck in the past and students know it helps alleviate critical and often under-the-radar hunger.

Large foundations try to examine how their funding creates impact on problems over time.  JOY may be a long way from measuring improvement in sectors, but starting with a clear direction helps to focus the philanthropy efforts.